Question: In Revelation 18:4, a voice from heaven commands, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues." In 2 Corinthians 6:17, we are told, "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." Does God want me to go live in a wilderness, like a hermit, away from anything unclean? What do these verses mean?
Answer: First, we need to understand the context of these verses. Revelation 18:4 tells Christians to come out of "Babylon" (v. 2). In 2 Corinthians 6:14–17, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to disassociate themselves from "unbelievers" (v. 14).
"Babylon" here refers not to a particular city, but rather to a false religious system that has its roots in ancient pagan Babylon. That system today is far more pervasive than most people realize. To learn more, request our free booklet, Satan’s Counterfeit Christianity. If you understand the true teachings of the Bible, but you still participate in religious rituals and traditions that mock those teachings, then you have not yet come out of Babylon.
What does it mean to be "separate" from unbelievers, as commanded in 2 Corinthians 6:17? For centuries, groups of men and women have formed isolated communities, even retreating into monasteries and convents, in order to be separate from those with different beliefs. But such a step is a superficial one, and does not address the real problem. In fact, anywhere there are human beings, there is carnal human nature. Even when we are by ourselves, we may be "in" the world if we desire the things of the world more than we desire the things of God (Matthew 6:33).
To come out of the world, we need to change ourselves. We come out of the world by changing our ways—by giving up the spiritually and physically unhealthy practices of those who reject God. Each of us needs to "gird up the loins of your mind" (1 Peter 1:13). This means to protect our minds from unwelcome and unwholesome influences. Do we listen to gossip and slander? Do we entertain thoughts of violence and hatred? Do we watch movies with pornographic or degrading images of sexual acts? Or, are we following Paul’s advice? "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8).
To stay close to God, we need to ask for Christ’s help to make the correct choices about our activities and also our friends. The people with whom we associate can make or break our efforts to come out of the world. "Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’ Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame" (1 Corinthians 15:33–34).
Ultimately, of course, we cannot fully come out of the world by ourselves. We need the Holy Spirit—God’s gift to us—through which God’s law will be written on our hearts. With God’s Spirit in us, we will learn to love God’s law and His ways, and we will truly come to know Him intimately. How can we know that we know Him? "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:3-6).
Sadly, countless millions today who call themselves followers of Christ are not even trying to "walk just as He walked." Will we follow the unbiblical traditions of men, or will we do as He did? One key sign of our faithfulness is how we follow His direct example of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath (Luke 4:16–17). For more, read our booklet Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?. The world around us would pressure us to keep a Sunday "Sabbath"—or no Sabbath at all. Will we bow to that pressure? Or will we "come out" of that world, and live the way God wants us to live? The choice is up to each one of us!